8 October 2005 – When Humanity Came Together
Dr. Munazza Mir, is an anatomist who graduated from Fatima Jinnah Medical College in 1982 and served in her alma mater for thirty years. She was one of the initial respondents to the Kashmir Earthquake.
8 October 2005, is a such an event in our recent history, for which everyone has a clear memory as to where and what they were up to when it happened. It took some time for people to realize the extent of damage that has been caused. For people in Lahore it was the strong tremors that they were trying to comprehend, when the news of Margala Hills apartment building collapsing came in. It was in the third set of news when the media started covering the situation of Azad Kashmir.
Dr. Munazza got to know about the situation in Azad Kashmir, when she called one of her cousin based in Islamabad to enquire after his safety, who informed her about the situation in their home town of Muzaffarabad. She didn’t think twice to decide that she would be going there to help with the relief activities. It was combination of professional and emotional calling; being a Kashmiri she felt she owed it to the land. Contacting her senior professors who were part of the alumni association’s non-profit section. In just one day the initial set of medicines and relief goods were collected and she was on her way with a team of paramedics.
“We knew that we are in the vicinity of the earthquake hit areas by the smell of rotting bodies that hit us. Everywhere our eyes went, we saw rubble of what once were homes, schools and commercial buildings. That is when the enormity of the situation sunk in.”
The team landed at Abbas Institute in Muzaffrabad. It was a bare building recently constructed to be turned into a medical institute. After reaching the point they went straight to work and started converting the rooms into wards and operating theater. Despite that they ended up treating patients on the floor in the corridors.
With time more teams started coming in from all over the country and then from other countries as well. The relief work was not just limited to doctors, there were people coming in with truckloads of aid.
“Humanity won during that time. There were no egos and no discrimination on the basis of religion, cast or creed. Professor Dr Awais from Mayo Hospital, a renowned orthopedic surgeon & I rolled our sleeves and cleaned and sterilized a room to turn it into a working operation theater. Dr Adib Rizvi, joined us as there were many cases of renal issues. Edhi sahib along with his son Faisal Edhi and their team came with their rescue units. Timothy, a young volunteer from Peshawar and Shafqat from Lahore, would make rounds the entire night to see if anyone needed anything, adjusting their blankets and keeping vigil.”
Along with the need for relief goods, there was a dire need of shrouds and everyone was asked to send those in mass supplies so that the burials could be done with proper rituals. Bodies were piled in rooms, shrouded and then buried. That day, a whole generation was lost. Given that it was school time, majority were in their classes.
“Parents were sitting outside the rubble, desperate and helpless, not being able to do anything. There were incidents where they could still hear the terrified screams of children coming from the rubble. Later on we came across incidents where individuals were rescued alive, in conditions that could only be understood as miracles.”
During the initial days, when the food supplied had yet to reach and Ramzan started out people were fasting with only milk or juice packs and some biscuits. When the administration of the place started to take some shape, was when they for the first time arranged for some solid food. The raw material were brought from outside the city. They spread a sheet and everyone ate out of that sheet for the lack of proper utensils. Their sleeping situation was not much different either. Whenever, someone exhausted all of his or her limits of energy, they would find a corner in a room somewhere and drop to sleep to start over again.
“Humanity joined forces to help. That is the simplest manner in which I can explain that time. There were businessmen with trucks filled with food, cloth etc., students, and professionals of various fields who came as volunteers without any pretext of output.”
There were some negative incidents as well. Were a handful of people took this as an opportunity to steal. However, on the whole the positive out did the negative. It was an example of the resilience and how we are able to get things done when we put our minds to it.
“I hope we can learn to come together like that in our normal circumstances to manage our issues, instead of waiting for disasters to shake us out of our slumber.”
Written & Pictures by Fatima Arif